An Overview of Far Right Politics in Europe
By Martin A. Lee
Nostalgia for Mussolini's Blackshirts is not uncommon among members of Italy's far-right National Alliance, led by Gianfranco Fini. A smooth-talking, telegenic politician, Fini cut his teeth as chief of the Italian Social Movement, Europe's oldest neofascist party.
But he realized that he needed to moderate his image in order to enhance his vote-getting potential. So Fini gave his organization a face-lift and a new name and proclaimed himself a "post-fascist."
His big break came when he formed an alliance with billionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who became prime minister of Italy in June. The National Alliance, which polled 12% nationwide (down from 16% in 1994), is currently the junior partner in a coalition government and Fini is Italy's deputy prime minister.
While Fini masquerades as a mainstream conservative, the Web site of the National Alliance's youth wing pays tribute to convicted Nazi war criminals.
Berlusconi also made an electoral pact with Tricolor Flame (Fiammi Tricolore), an unapologetically fascist sect that rejects Fini's efforts to mainstream the far right movement.
A magnet for Skinheads and neo-Nazis, Tricolor Flame is led by Pino Rauti, a veteran of the terrorist underground. Three members of Ordine Nuovo (New Order), a neofascist group formed by Rauti, were sentenced in June to life in prison for a 1969 bomb attack in Milan that killed 16 people and injured 88 others. The attack on a bank in the central city initiated the so-called "strategy of tension," which was meant to halt the country's slide to the left.
Berlusconi's other key ally is Umberto Bossi, head of the xenophobic Northern League, which is also part of the governing coalition despite only polling 40% of the vote. Known for his crude anti-gay slurs and his anti-foreigner vitriol, Bossi blames immigrants for crime, drugs, job scarcity, and nearly every other problem in Italy.
During the 2001 campaign, he called for the Italian navy to shoot at ships suspected of carrying illegal migrants into the country.
Belgium: Next in Line?
Inflammatory xenophobic rhetoric is also a cornerstone of the Vlaams Blok (Flemish Bloc), another radical right-wing populist party with openly fascist roots, which has become a major political force in Belgium.
In October 2000, Vlaams Blok outpolled all rivals, grabbing 33% of the vote in Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city, and scoring well throughout Belgium's Dutch-speaking region.
"We are not partisans of a cosmopolitan, multiracial, multicultural society," says Filip Dewinter, chief of Vlaams Blok, which wants to split Belgium by creating an independent, ethnically pure Flemish nation-state.
Like Haider and Fini, Dewinter uses a suave, gentrified style and youthful good looks to make his rabble-rousing policies appear more palatable. Some political observers fear that if Vlaams Blok continues to increase its share of the vote, then it's only a matter of time before Belgium follows in the footsteps of Austria and Italy by including the far right in the government.
In France, neofascists have been divided over whether to court mainstream right-wing parties. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the hard-line leader of the National Front, ousted his ostensibly more moderate vice-chairman, Bruno Megret, who favored cooperation with conservatives.
Hampered by serious infighting that recently split the party in two, the National Front has seen its share of the vote drop since the mid-1990s, when it emerged as the third largest party in France. But the extreme right continues to have a strong presence in local government.
In municipalities governed by the National Front, officials have censored library books, nixed anti-racist rock concerts, and removed the names of anti-fascists and leftists — such as former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nelson Mandela — from street signs.
In many countries, neofascists often have led electoral opposition to the European Union and the new single currency, the euro, which is scheduled to replace most national currencies next year. In Denmark, the only EU country to put the matter to a vote, the euro was defeated by a large margin in a national referendum last year after the ultra-nationalist Danish People's Party attacked it.
Europeans are understandably worried about the economic implications of the euro, which has lost about a quarter of its value since it was introduced in 1999.
In addition, full participation in the European Monetary Union requires painful budget cuts and significantly reduces the ability of governments to regulate their own economies by adjusting currency valuations and interest rates — all of which has helped far-right parties.
Violence Comes Calling
Even when they lose elections, neofascists are like a toxic chemical in the water supply of the political landscape, polluting public discourse and pressuring establishment parties to adopt extremist positions to fend off challenges from the far right.
Fearful of losing the anti-foreigner vote and eager to deflect attention from their own policy failures, government officials in one country after the next have removed the welcome mat for refugees and adopted a number of extreme-right proposals.
By jumping on the xenophobic bandwagon, mainstream politicians have helped to create an atmosphere of racial hatred throughout much of the continent.
In the United Kingdom, the ruling Labor Party and the conservative Tories have tried to outbid each other in taking a hard line against immigration. Comparing asylum seekers to "rats in a bucket," Tory parliamentary representative John Townend has suggested that immigrants are turning Britons into a "mongrel race."
Much of the Tory Party's tough talk on crime and refugees can hardly be distinguished from the British National Party (BNP), the leading neo-Nazi group in England. Although it has few members and is not a serious electoral force, the was instrumental in fomenting discord between Asian and white communities in the run-down, working-class areas of Oldham, which culminated in race riots in May.
(The BNP's role in Oldham does not seem to have hurt its standing with much of the public; it received 16% of the vote in recent parliamentary elections following the riots.)
It was the worst outbreak of ethnic violence in Britain for more than 15 years. But it was hardly the only such instance in post-Cold War Europe.
For several days in February 2000, thousands of Spaniards went on a rampage against Moroccan farm-workers in El Ejido, a town of 50,000 in southern Spain. Triggered by the stabbing of a Spanish woman and the arrest of a mentally handicapped Moroccan suspected of the knife attack, Spanish youths set houses and cars on fire, plundered shops, and assaulted immigrants on the streets.
The violence in El Ejido, a powder keg of racial resentment, was exacerbated by self-appointed vigilantes from other cities who joined the fray after they had been alerted by Spanish-based neo-Nazi web-sites.
In Germany, a 'Brown Underground'
Anti-foreigner brutality is a daily phenomenon in Germany, where neo-Nazi attacks have killed at least 130 people and injured thousands since the Berlin Wall fell more than a decade ago. In addition to immigrants and asylum-seekers, far-right hooligans have targeted handicapped and homeless people, single mothers, leftists, and Jewish institutions.
Most of the suspects implicated in neo-Nazi assaults are under 21 years old, and many have ties to the National Democratic Party (NPD), the most extreme of several far right parties in Germany. The German government has initiated legal moves to ban the NPD, claiming it is responsible for provoking numerous acts of violence (see Battling Globalization).
In recent years, German neo-Nazis have become ever more brazen and sophisticated. Death-lists posted on Web sites include the names, addresses, and photos of anti-fascists, trade unionists, state employees and other perceived enemies, along with promises of cash for a successful arson attack.
Germany's domestic security chiefs recently disclosed that a half-dozen raids on neo-Nazis last year yielded record amounts of weapons and explosives — including pipe bombs, machine guns, several kilos of TNT, anti-tank bazookas, mortars, grenades and pistols. The discovery of several large arsenals raised fears that right-wing extremists are planning full-scale terrorist attacks.
"What we are seeing," says Graeme Atkinson of the London-based anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, "is a very worrying trend in the organization of far-right groups with a view to committing terrorism.
"They are talking about creating a 'leaderless resistance' of terrorist cells — what they call a 'brown underground' — and of ensuring the creation of 'liberated zones,' with foreigners driven out from rural areas and smaller towns."